Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
09 May 2011
Houston makes sense — and music — of Ariadne
Ariadne auf Naxos, the next major endeavor of the Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal collaboration after Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, has been a special challenge for American opera companies.
Much in the work depends on the wit of the Prologue, in which the richest man in Vienna demands that the evening’s performance in his home merge the planned comedy and tragedy in a staging to last not more than one hour. It would otherwise interfere with the fireworks — the heart of the evening, one gathers — that is to follow.
In the age before titles, the Prologue was sometimes performed in English; the opera in the intended German. Titles now bring home the egotism of singers who fight about dressing rooms and the frustrations of the idealistic young composer who sees his work devastated by the striking of a single note. More important, however, is the foreshadowing of the opera in the intense love that the composer comes to feel for coquettish commedia dell’arte Zebinetta, who in her fickleness seems everything that he and Ariadne are not.
Scored for a mere 35 instruments, Ariadne is — despite Wagnerian vocal demands — a chamber work that echoes the Baroque once dominant in Strauss’ native Bavaria. And it was Patrick Summers thorough understanding of these roots that accounted for the unusual radiance of the staging, seen on opening night of the five-performance Houston run.
This was an Ariadne of cultivated gentleness, in which reserve dominated and in the opera accounted for the seamlessness with which tragedy and comedy blended with such ease. Keeping Strauss’ sometimes runaway sensuality in check, Summers concentrated rather on the intimacy of the opera, drawing the audience into a story that in its intricacy identifies von Hofmannsthal as perhaps the greatest librettist in the history of opera. Conductor Summers, HGO music director, is now an established figure in the world’s opera houses, and here he showed again the polish and sophistication that he has brought to the company’s orchestra.
The central figure in the Prologue is the youthful Composer, a trouser role patterned after the Octavian of Rosenkavalier. In this country Susan Graham continues to hold the copyright on these roles. A dashing and exuberant figure, she played the art-and love-smitten composer with fervor and conviction and without exaggerated mannerisms. She clearly remains at the height of her vocal powers.
Christine Goerke, famous for her interpretation of such dark roles as Wagner’s Ortrud and Kundy and Verdi’s Eboli, brought richness to death-obsessed Ariadne in a performance made luminous by Summer’s disciplined approach to the score. The conductor deserves further praise for the transparency with which the nymphs who watch over Ariadne as the opera opens sang.
Over the past decade Texas-born Laura Claycomb has distinguished herself in works from Handel to Mahler and Britten. Without slighting the playful side of the role, she stressed that Zerbinetta — despite appearances — is looking for the one man to whom she might be true.
Bacchus, an unrewarding assignment, would be a supporting role, were he not needed to engineer the transcendence with which the opera ends. Sometimes a role for ageing Wagnerians — James King comes to mind, Alexey Dolgov is perhaps too young to play Bacchus. (The Siberian-born tenor made his HGO debut as Puccini’s Rodolfo in 2008.)
John Fanning as Music Teacher and Susan Graham as Composer
It is, however, the role itself that is problematic. Bacchus, at best a bit of a bumpkin, stumbles onto Naxos on the heels of heroic exploits, and — until he falls hopelessly in love with the abandoned Ariadne — doesn’t really understand what is going on there. Neither does Ariadne, who sees him as the envoy of Death. Thus the two sing at cross purposes at the outset of the duet that ends the opera. Nonetheless, one felt that Dolgov had been miscast — the single blemish on the otherwise enviously engaging performance. Of course, one knows Strauss’ antipathy for tenors, and Dolgov’s shortfall underscored that this — like Rosenkavalier — is a womens’ opera.
One left the Wortham with heart warmed by Goerke’s deeply internalized delivery of Ein Scho”nes war and “Es gibt ein Reich” and awed by the effortlessness with which Claycomb proved herself an ideal Zerbinetta.
Boris Zyakov as Harlequin-and Laura Claycomb as Zerbinetta
Six of the seven youthful singers cast as nymphs and commedia dell’arte clowns were current HGO studio artists, underscoring the high professional standards of that program.
All in all an Ariadne to treasure, the production not only concluded the present HGO season, but further brought down the curtain on Anthony Freud’s all too brief tenure of the company’s general director. (Freud arrived in 2006.) Freud succeeds William Mason at the helm of Chicago Lyric Opera.